WASHINGTON/ MILAN  -  The United States and its allies conducted an “extraordinary” flight over Ukraine under the Open Skies Treaty in a show of solidarity following the Kerch Strait incident, the Pentagon said in a press release on Thursday.

“Today, the United States and Allies conducted an extraordinary flight under the Open Skies Treaty,” the release said. “The timing of this flight is intended to reaffirm US commitment to Ukraine and other partner nations.‎” The State Department’s Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance said in a Twitter statement that the flight was conducted by an American OC-135 surveillance aircraft, adding that allies Canada, Germany, France, Romania and the United Kingdom participated in the Open Skies Treaty mission. The flight comes amid heightened tensions over the recent incident between Russia and Ukraine in the Kerch Strait.

“Russia’s unprovoked attack on Ukrainian naval vessels in the Black Sea near the Kerch Strait is a dangerous escalation in a pattern of increasingly provocative and threatening activity,” the Pentagon said. “The United States seeks a better relationship with Russia, but this cannot happen while its unlawful and destabilizing actions continue in Ukraine and elsewhere.” The United States stated earlier it supports Ukraine in the naval incident in the Kerch Strait that occurred late last month.

On November 25, three ships of the Ukrainian Navy - Berdyansk, Nikopol, and Yany Kapu - breached the Russian border, entered Russian territorial waters that were temporarily closed, and began moving toward the Kerch Strait, which serves as an entrance into the Sea of Azov. The Ukrainian vessels and their crew were detained by Russia after failing to respond to a lawful demand to stop.

In response to the incident, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed a decree declaring martial law in several Ukrainian regions located near the Russian border and the coasts of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that the incident was a provocation prepared in advance as a pretext to introduce martial law in Ukraine. Putin said the provocation could be linked to Poroshenko’s low approval rating ahead of the presidential election campaign set to start in late December.

Russia created Europe’s largest

humanitarian crisis

US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Wess Mitchell said on Thursday that Russia was responsible for the largest humanitarian crisis in Europe due to its alleged involvement in the eastern Ukrainian conflict.

“In the past four years, Russia has precipitated Europe’s largest humanitarian crisis in a generation. One that has cost more than 10,000 casualties in eastern Ukraine and displaced more than 1.5 million people from their homes,” Mitchell said at the 25th Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Ministerial Council, which takes place in Milan.

 Washington urges Moscow to release the Ukrainian ships and crews detained as a result of the incident in the Kerch Strait, the official stressed. “We call on Russia to end its aggression in Ukraine, to release the detained sailors and their vessels, to return control of Crimea to Ukraine and to stop harassment of unarmed OSCE civilian monitors,” Mitchell underlined.

Relations between Moscow and Kiev deteriorated in 2014 after Crimea’s reunification with Russia and amid the crisis in eastern Ukraine. The Ukrainian authorities have accused Russia of interfering in Ukraine’s internal affairs and being involved in the conflict in Donbas. Russia has repeatedly denied the allegations and said that it wanted the country to overcome its political and economic crises. Moscow has also been sending humanitarian aid to the Eastern Ukraine since 2014 and brought over 78,000 tonnes of aid to the conflict-torn region.

On November 25, three ships of the Ukrainian Navy — Berdyansk, Nikopol, and Yany Kapu — breached the Russian border, entered Russian territorial waters that were temporarily closed, and began moving toward the Kerch Strait, which serves as an entrance into the Sea of Azov. The Ukrainian vessels and their crew were detained by Russia after failing to respond to a lawful demand to stop. In response to the incident, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed the decree on the martial law in several Ukrainian regions located near the Russian border and the coasts of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that the incident was a provocation prepared in advance as a pretext to introduce martial law in Ukraine. Putin said the provocation could be linked to Poroshenko’s low approval rating ahead of the presidential campaign set to start in late December.